Life Begins (by Amanda Brookfield)

It's four years since I was first introduced to a book by Amanda Brookfield, and I've read a few more over the years. I don't remember where I acquired this one; perhaps I picked it up second-hand from a church bookstall, or maybe someone passed it on to me. It sat on my to-be-read shelf for a while before I picked it up to read a week ago.

'Life Begins' revolves around Charlotte who is approaching her 40th birthday, and not finding life at all easy. Her unhappy divorce from Martin has just been finalised, and she finds it very difficult to see him with his new partner Cindy. However, the logistics of allowing their 13-year-old son Sam to visit his father means that she can't avoid them altogether. It doesn't help that Sam having a tough time at school, no doubt related to the breakup of his parents' marriage, but is unforthcoming about what's going on. He seems to have lost most of his friends, and Charlotte is quite worried about him.

Charlotte would really like to make a new start in her life, so she puts her house on the market, and finds the house of her dreams... although it's rather beyond her budget, and looks as though it may be sold privately. While doing this she meets the estate agent Tim who seems to find her attractive, but she's not keen. Unfortunately her rather lost demeanor also attracts the attentions of her best friend's husband. Then her mother - whom she has always found difficult to get along with - has an accident...

While the plot is primarily about Charlotte and her gradual acceptance of her circumstances, there are a lot of subplots in this book, and such a big cast of people that I often found myself forgetting who was whom. It's quite a long novel (nearly 400 pages) and it took me a week to read it, just a few chapters at a time. I found it remarkably difficult to keep track of - for instance - the names of the people who own the bookshop where Charlotte works, and her various friends and their spouses. I didn't even try to keep track of her friends' numerous children.

Still, I found that I gradually warmed to the book during the week. I was quite eager to start a new chapter each evening, and began to remember at least the most significant characters. By the last couple of days, I found it quite difficult to put down. Some of the novel was predictable, including the man with whom Charlotte eventually got together, but there were a few surprises along the way which kept me turning the pages.

Each chapter begins with a brief, first person account from Charlotte's past, in italics to distinguish it from the main text. I quite liked this device and felt it helped me to get to know her better. It saved lengthy flashbacks, and allowed her past to be revealed gradually, meshing in with the present, over the course of the book.

I liked her as a person, although she seemed a bit jumpy and over-reactive, and I very much liked Sam, who had a lot of depth.  I never did manage to separate the various friends in my mind, and I found the estate agent to be a very unpleasant man: charming on the surface, but rather a creep when given access to his thoughts.

While I wasn't sure that I was going to like this at first, I definitely did by the time I turned the last pages.

Recommended to anyone who likes light women's fiction that's primarily character-based. Now available for the Kindle as well as in paperback form.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 1st July 2012

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